The next six weeks were nothing but torture; with my right hand in a cast practically everything became impossible.  Eating, writing, drawing, it was all ridiculously difficult to get used to doing left-handed and the imperfection of my work, once I got it done, was infuriating.  I was constantly getting frustrated or upset by my inability to do anything truly productive and I had no way to vent my feelings.  Drawing only made me more frustrated and playing the piano was out of the question, my fingers were so restricted by the cast I could barely reach more than one or two keys at a time.

If not being able to do anything at home wasn’t bad enough, I felt completely awful about the fact that I couldn’t work or help my mom out at the shop.  There were only two weeks left until Valentine’s Day when I broke my hand and having a cast made me completely useless.  I fretted about my mom, wondering if she’d ever get her work done in time, but two days later she came home with wonderful news.  She’d found someone to fill in for me until things settled back down.  I was so relieved when she gave me the news, glad to know she wouldn’t have to suffer at work because of me and my miserable rescue attempt.

What frustrated me more than my inability to do anything I needed, or wanted, to do was Ian’s complete silence.  Even after I risked my life to save his, and was suffering endlessly for it, he had to add insult to injury by ignoring me as completely as ever.  Never did I get a thank you from him, never did he ask how I was doing or when the cast came off.  Shoot, I would have settled for a smile or even occasional eye contact but I got nothing; everything was back to the same cold silence that had reigned between us for months.

 

When my cast finally came off, I threw a party to celebrate.  Maggie, Yuuki, Jack, Cade and Matt were all there to celebrate with me by downing copious amounts of pizza, Coke and chocolate bonbons as we played all the games I’d been banned from for the past six weeks.  During the party, Jack told me I was desperately needed for the sets of the spring musical.  With no hope of being able to help, I hadn’t even bothered to go to auditions with Maggie and Yuuki.  The glimpse of what I couldn’t be a part of was just too painful, especially when I remembered that this play was to be my last.  So when Jack told me there was still a chance for me to help out, I jumped at it, thrilled that I wouldn’t have to miss out on it after all.  Everyone cheered when Jack announced that I’d be working on the sets, starting Monday, and we celebrated by playing an insane round of Twister.

With my hand back to normal, I threw myself back into my work, trying desperately to make up for all of the lost time.  The recital in Denver, was a little over a month away and I still had a lot of work to do if I was ever going to be ready.  I spent hours, every night, sitting at the piano, going over and over my pieces, determined to play them perfectly before the month was up.  I drove my mom nuts with my incessant playing but she knew that the recital was very important to me so she let me play while she locked herself in her room with her stereo blasting.

The comic book I’d been working on before I hurt my hand had lain on my desk, tormenting me for weeks, was also a top priority.  I attacked the book with as much fervor as I did my piano pieces; any free time I had, I worked on it, plotting, writing, drawing and re-drawing, until my eyes burned and my hand cramped.  I wasn’t even really sure why I was so compelled to work on it, but I was and I felt that I just had to finish it…and soon.

The play was only two weeks away so I spent every afternoon in the auditorium, painting sets while the cast rehearsed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.  Mr. Mertz had really outdone himself with this year’s musical, or at least he had, in my opinion; I loved Cinderella, especially the enchanted version, which is what Mr. Mertz had decided on and it was so much fun to watch my friends playing such beloved rolls.  Yuuki made an incredible Fairy Godmother, Jack was the perfect indifferent King and Cade was a hilarious Lionel.  Maggie was an absolutely perfect Cinderella and Ian, as always, had the lead male role and made a fantastic Prince Charming.  I was amazed by the perfect chemistry of the cast until I realized that it wasn’t exactly perfect.  Apparently Ashley, who had been cast as one of the step-sisters, was still a bit bitter about Ian’s unexplained disappearance at the dance.  Maggie told me that Ashley had been ditched, not only by Ian, but by her friends as well and ended up having to call her Dad to come and pick her up.  Humiliated and infuriated, Ashley had spent the past two months giving Ian venomous looks any time he was within range, which Ian completely ignored.  I had to admit, I thought the entire thing was hilarious.  Ashley, who had been plotting all year to catch Ian for herself, now wanted nothing to do with him, and even better, Ian wanted nothing to do with her.  For the first time since the letter debacle, I wasn’t the only one being ignored by Ian, which was great, but even better, was knowing that Ashley was the other object of his scorn.  I decided that there really was some form of justice in the world and I walked through the halls of school with a smile on my face, basking in the sweetness of it all, well, at least for a day.  I may have enjoyed that wonderful twist of fate for more than a day if the reason for Ian’s lack of interest weren’t becoming painfully clear.

See, with the exception of Ashley, the chemistry amongst the cast members of this year’s musical was absolutely incredible.  Everyone fell easily into their rolls and shared a real sense of comradery both on and off stage, which was amazing, but nothing was as amazing as the chemistry between Maggie and Ian.  Watching the two of them rehearse, everyone could see and feel the spark between them, it was that incredible.  Rumors around school began to fly as Maggie and Ian were spotted together, not only at rehearsals but also in the halls or the library or at lunch and it wasn’t long until the entire school believed they were a couple.

Of course, if confronted, they denied the rumors and Yuuki, Jack, Matt, Cade and I knew the truth, but that did nothing to stop the sinking feeling from settling in the pit of my stomach every time I saw them together.  And I saw them together a lot.  It seems like everywhere I went, they were there too, always together and always running lines.  It wasn’t so bad, seeing them at school because there would always be someone else with them but when they came into Stan’s together, while I was working one Saturday afternoon, I nearly burst into tears.

“Hey Lyla!” Maggie called as she stepped up to the counter.

“Hey Maggie,” I answered as I fumbled with the shake I was supposed to be making, my hands trembling as I struggled to compose myself, “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“That’s okay, I’m not sure what I want anyway.  What about you Ian, do you know what you want?”

My weak attempt at composing myself failed miserably as Ian’s voice made me jump, sending a spectacular spray of strawberries, ice cream and milk out of the cup I was holding.  Humiliated, I grabbed a rag and began to clean up my mess, trying not to think about the smug smile I was certain would be plastered on Ian’s face.

“The shake machine hates me,” I groaned as Stella came to help me clean up.

“That’s alright Sweety, we all have our days.  Why don’t you help your friends while I clean up this mess.”

“Alright,” I sighed as I turned to take the orders of Maggie and Ian.

“So what’ll you have?” I asked, doing my best to ignore the beaming Ian.

“Well, I was going to order a shake, but since you seem to be having problems with the machine, I’ll have a sundae instead.  Hot fudge, please.”

“Sure and you?” I asked, turning to Ian.

“Vanilla shake,” he grinned.

“Fine,” I snapped, glowering at him as he turned to find himself and Maggie a place to sit.

“So I hope you don’t mind,” Maggie kinda half-whispered as I worked on her sundae.

“Mind what?” I asked.

“Us coming here.”

“Why should I?”

“Well, because of all the rumors and stuff.  I didn’t want you to think this was a date or anything.”

“You mean it’s not?”

“Of course it’s not, we’re just here to run lines for a little while.  We were supposed to meet Jack and Yuuki here too but Jack’s parents made him babysit his little brother this afternoon, last second, so it’s just the two of us.  That’s okay, isn’t it?”

“It’s fine,” I assured her as I handed her the sundae and shake.

Even though I said it was fine, the truth was that watching them together was torture.  It was painfully obvious that the spark between them, which glowed so brightly on stage, was still there.  The chemistry between them, the way they could just sit there, talking and laughing like any normal couple would do, was obvious to everyone in the shop.  Even Stella noticed and couldn’t keep from commenting.

“Your friend seems to have found a fine young man,” she grinned.

“Yeah,” I grinned as my insides ached, “she has.”

 

I cried myself to sleep that night while a thousand thoughts and emotions whirled around in my head.  I was happy for Maggie, because she’d finally found a guy that would treat her as well as she deserved and happy for Ian because he’d fallen for one of the best girls in the world.  But at the same time, I was completely devastated.  I’d loved Ian for so long, I just didn’t see how I was going to be able to let him go, even if it was to one of my best friends.  I hated myself for making such a fuss over something I had no control over and before I finally fell asleep, I’d determined never to do it again.  Maggie was my friend and she deserved a great guy and if that guy just happened to be Ian, well, then I didn’t see how any guy could be better.  I decided that I would put on my happy face and wish them both well, even though on the inside my heart had shattered.

 

The next two weeks went by in a blur as everyone involved with the play scrambled frantically to get everything done.  I got wrangled into helping with costumes and makeup as well as the set and was the one everyone called for on opening night for final touch ups on both.  Once again I found myself gagging in the hair spray filled make-up room while I helped the cast transform into the plucky characters of Cinderella’s world.  As the cast filed out of the room and huddled just off stage, waiting anxiously for the house lights to dim, I set about cleaning up, feeling just a little sad that this would be the last show I’d ever be a part of.  Not wanting to bum myself out too much on opening night, I turned my attention back to the job at hand and finished in record time.

With my work done, for the moment, I snuck off-stage and watched the play, grinning madly as my friends poured their hearts into their performances.  When the curtain went down on the final act, the auditorium rang with applause, the show had been a hit.  Backstage, parents and students crowded the halls, basking in the glow of their obvious success.  I found Maggie and Yuuki squished between their parents and was quick to join their group, adding my compliments to the shower of praise both sets of parents were lavishing on their beaming daughters.  I caught a quick glimpse of Dr. and Mrs. Wallace backstage and decided it was time for me to retreat to the dressing room and begin the huge task of collecting and arranging the costumes for the next show.  I hadn’t seen Mrs. Wallace since the incident over Christmas break and the idea of meeting her now just seemed a little weird.

Safely hidden in the girl’s dressing room, I was able to forget about the Wallace’s and focus on the triumph of my friends.  The girl in charge of the costumes this year, a sophomore by the name of Sara who just happened to be Mr. Mertz’s niece, was completely lost among the chaos of the dressing room so I decided to help her out while I waited for Maggie and Yuuki.

 

Two nights later I found myself taking refuge in the girl’s dressing room once again, only this time I wasn’t to avoid an uncomfortable meeting, I was trying to escape the flood of tears that inevitably followed a final performance.  For the past three years, I’d mocked the overly dramatic seniors who bawled like babies after their final performance.  I’d always found their tears annoying, just one of the many ploys used by the dramatic to get the attention they crave, but this time things were different.  This was my last play and with it over, a solemn feeling of finality began to weigh heavily on my heart.  As the younger members of the cast began to slowly filter into the dressing room, I decided to seek refuge someplace else.

Wandering back stage in the dim half-light which filtered back from the house, I was able to collect myself.  Once I felt certain I’d be able to keep myself together, I stepped onto the stage and took my final look around, fixing it all in my memory, as I had done every semester since freshman year.

“Making another memory?” a voice asked from just off stage.

“Would you believe I forgot my camera again?” I chuckled as Ian joined me on stage.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he grinned.

“Yeah well, what can I say?  I guess I’m hopeless.”

“That sounds about right.”

“Right.  So, good job tonight.”

“Thanks.”

“I think it was the best performance of the three.”

“I think so too.  Must be all the seniors in the cast this year or something, we all wanted to go out with a bang, I guess.”

“Well, you did.  It was great.”

“Thanks.”

Not knowing what else to say, silence settled between us and I went on with my memory making, taking my final look around the stage.  Satisfied I’d be able to remember the final play of my high school career, I started for the dressing rooms, knowing Maggie and Yuuki would be looking for me if I hid for too much longer.  Ian followed silently behind me for a minute or two before disappearing into the crowd.

 

The next day at school, the rumors about Maggie and Ian only got worse.  Now that everyone had seen them kiss on stage, there was no doubt they were kissing off stage as well.  Maggie was suddenly idolized by the younger girls at school and loathed by the older while Ian became the bane of every guy at Roosevelt High.  Hundreds of dreams were dashed when the rumor of Maggie and Ian’s relationship came out, mine being one of them, even though Maggie continued to insist that they were only friends.

Friends or not, Ian’s continued presence at our lunch table was all the gossip chain needed to keep them the hottest topic in school for the next week.  I did my best to keep my “happy face” in place, not wanting anyone to know what I actually suffered in silence.  I thought I did a pretty good job of keeping up the happiness, but there were others who didn’t do so well and Cade was one of them.

“I don’t get what she sees in him,” Cade growled one afternoon in dance class, “he’s not all that great.”

“You’re so totally overreacting,” I told him as we waltzed around the room, “they’re not together.”

“That’s what they say, but if it’s true, why hasn’t Ian gone back to eating lunch with the team?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.  “Maybe he missed eating with you and Jack.”

“Of course!  Why didn’t I think of that?” Cade grinned, rolling his eyes at my suggestion.  “Nah, it’s because they’re together.  I know they are.”

“Dude, they’re not together.”

“How do you know?”

“Maggie would have told me if they were.”

“Not if she thought you’d be mad at her for going out with the guy you like.”

“She knows I wouldn’t be anything but…wait, what?  What do you mean the guy I like?”

“Oh come on Lyla, everyone knows you’re still in love with Ian.”

“No I’m not.”

“Whatever,” Cage growled.  “What I don’t understand is how you can like a guy who’s been nothing but a jerk to you.”

“You do realize you’re talking about your friend, don’t you?”

“Yeah, and as a friend, I know just how big of a jerk he really is.  Come on Lyla, don’t you remember how awful he was to you the day after you wrote that letter?”

“I remember.”

“And what about the thing at the fall auditions?  He humiliated you in front of everyone, don’t you remember that?”

“He didn’t do that on his own!”

“Hey, I was trying to impress you, he only wanted to humiliate you.”

“You both did a good job on that one.”

“I really am sorry about that, I thought you’d like the attention.”

“I’m not the attention loving type,” I grinned, “that’s more Maggie’s thing.”

“Yeah, that would have been nice to know six months ago,” Cade grumbled.  “So why is it you’re still in love with Ian, even after all of that?  I would have thought you’d have learned your lesson by now.”

“My lesson?”

“That Ian’s a selfish, egotistic snob who doesn’t care who he hurts, as long as he gets what he wants.”

“Wow, if that’s how you talk about your friends, I’d hate to hear what you say about your enemies.”

“Yeah, well friends don’t steal other friend’s girls.”

“But Maggie’s not your girl.”

“No, but I was going to ask her to prom.”

“So ask her.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because she’s with him.”

“No she’s not.”

“Whatever.  If you want to delude yourself into believing that, go ahead, but I’m not falling for it.  I know the truth and you know, even worse than knowing the truth, is knowing that every girl I’ve liked this year has been too obsessed with Ian to notice me.  You know, sometimes it really sucks to have such popular friends.”

“Yeah, I know,” I sighed sympathetically, “sometimes you get lost in their shadow.”

“Tell me about it,” Cade grinned.  “So, if things don’t work out with Maggie, what are you doing for prom?”

“I think I’m going to rent about a thousand movies and try to forget about the whole thing.”

“So you’re not going?”

“Not if I can help it,” I sighed.

“Mind if I join you?”

“I suppose you could if you wanted to, but I wouldn’t give up on Maggie just yet, if I were you.  Until she announces to the world that she and Ian are really together, you still have hope.”

“You really think so?”

“I do,” I grinned as the music and the class ended for the day and we went our separate ways.

 

 

I had a lot to ponder as I dipped ice cream for a bus load of grade-schoolers that afternoon.  For some reason, I couldn’t get the conversation with Cade out of my head; the whole “I know the truth” thing had really struck a nerve.  Did he really know something I didn’t?  Had Maggie kept the truth from me?  If she had, was it out of fear or friendship?  Did she really think I’d be mad at her for going out with Ian?  Sure, I’d liked him for six years, but what was six years of unrequited love compared to a friendship twice as long?  Didn’t she know that her happiness and Yuuki’s meant more to me than my own?  Surely she did.  But that wasn’t all that was bothering me.  I spent the majority of my afternoon trying to figure out whether or not I should tell Maggie that Cade liked her.  I was pretty sure Cade wouldn’t mind me passing on the information, but I didn’t know if Maggie would appreciate it.  If she weren’t with Ian she might like to know, but if she was, she might see my mentioning Cade as a desperate attempt to get her away from Ian.  Not wanting to risk looking like a desperate and jilted lover, I decided to keep my mouth shut and let everything work itself out on its own.

With my mind made up, I tried to force myself to forget about Maggie and Ian and focus solely on the upcoming recital.  I nearly freaked every time I thought about the fact that the recital was only days away; I still didn’t feel ready.  Every night, as I practiced, I found myself wishing, more and more, that my mom would have let me go back to my lessons with Mrs. Wallace.  The months I had wasted, not going to lessons, had come back to haunt me and I was certain I would never play well enough to even be considered for the scholarship, let alone win it.

The entire week of the recital, my mom constantly reminded me that it was no big deal, that it didn’t matter whether or not I won the scholarship, as long as I did my best.  I suppose, deep down, I knew that she was right, but I just couldn’t bring myself to agree with her at the time.  I had worked too hard and for too long to not get anything more than a pat on the back or a “good job” from one of the judges.  I wanted to win.

If the stress of the recital wasn’t enough, things at school were just getting worse.  Maggie and Ian were constantly together and the entire school had nothing more interesting to talk about than their relationship.  Apparently having Maggie and Ian together proved to everyone that the hottest guy in school always ended up with the hottest girl and the rest of us poor schmoes were left to dream in lonely misery forever.  As bad as the rumors made me feel, it was Maggie’s continual denial of her relationship with Ian that really hurt.  It wasn’t that I was jealous, well, not too much anyway, but it was the fact that she refused to tell me the truth that really drove the stake into my heart.  It was so obvious to everyone that she and Ian were together that even Yuuki didn’t believe her when she said they weren’t together.  It was so bad, in fact, that Yuuki started calling me every night, just to make sure I was really okay.

“I’m fine,” I told her the third night she called, “really, I am.”

“I know you keep saying that, but I’m still not sure I believe you.  I’ve watched you when you’re around them.”

“So?  I’m happy when they’re around.”

“You’re smiling, but you’re not happy.”

“Yeah, well, what am I supposed to do?  I’m not going to tell Maggie that she can’t have Ian because he’s mine, because well, he’s not.  I may have liked him for all these years but what does that matter?  She’s the one he picked, not me, and there’s nothing I can do about it, right?”

“I guess so.”

“So that’s it.  There’s nothing more to say.  Ian picked Maggie, and I’m just going to have to deal with it.”

“Yeah well even if Ian picked Maggie, she shouldn’t have encouraged him.  She knows how much you like him and flirting like she is, well it’s just mean.”

“It’s not mean, it’s just Maggie,” I sighed.  “Now can we please change the subject?  I really don’t want to talk about this anymore.  It is what it is and that’s it.”

“Okay,” Yuuki sighed, “but I’m here if you need me, you know that, right?”

“I know and thanks.”

“No problem.  So, what did you think of that Biology test today?”

“It wasn’t bad,” I grinned, grateful to Yuuki for helping me get my mind off of Ian, for a while anyway.

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